Even before I stepped foot on UChicago’s campus, I found myself daydreaming about studying abroad. Nothing sounded better than traveling to a foreign country with a group of new friends in order to immerse myself in all aspects of an unfamiliar, temporary home through its culture, people, language, and history.
Since my arrival in Oaxaca, Mexico at the beginning of the quarter, this experience has been nothing short of extraordinary.
The Oaxaca program is unique in that we live in the home of a Mexican family rather than in a dorm. From the very start of my visit, my host family integrated me into their daily lives. I arrived to the news that my luggage had been lost during my flight transfer. Adela and Ángel, my host family, translated as I tried to locate my lost baggage. The next day, when the suitcase was found, they went to the airport to get my bag before I even got home from my first day of classes.
All of my classes and intercambios (language exchanges) are held at the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca. The Institute (or, as the students say, “el Instituto”) is a small Spanish language school surrounded by tall brick walls covered in greenery, a gorgeous central courtyard, and classrooms toward the edges of the campus. The staff members at the Institute could not be more welcoming and genuinely happy to help us with any questions regarding cool places and sites around the city, language, or anything else we’d like to know.
While here, we are enrolled in three Latin American Civilization courses with a general focus on Mexico, as well as a Spanish language course. The three consecutive civilization courses span Latin American history, from ancient Mesoamerica to the Spanish conquest, the colonial era, and modern Latin America. Thankfully, our class schedule allows us almost equal time to learn inside the classroom and experience the city outside of it. Each civilization course includes excursions to area museums, archaeological sites, and historical sites. The program also includes a weeklong trip to Mexico City to experience the country’s capital and all the history it has to offer.
Our group of Chicagoans has been able to explore and experience the tastes of the city of Oaxaca. I think everyone in the program would agree that our newfound relationship with tacos from our favorite restaurant, El Pastorcito, has flourished much more quickly than any of us ever imagined. Each bite is an explosion of flavor; almost every restaurant here serves their food with at least four different types of sauces, ranging from slightly hot to a legitimate fire in your mouth. The addiction to churros is citywide. Some restaurants here will let you watch as they dip the freshly prepared dough into a vat of oil and then into a basket of sugar.
Like Chicago, the city of Oaxaca is filled with great cafes and restaurants, beautiful green parks, and old architecture. My time abroad has made me better appreciate the opportunities UChicago presents. I realize now that, though coursework in Chicago does not usually include excursions, the opportunity to supplement your academic learning with your own adventures is all around you. So, to all those battling the Chicago winter, bundle up, get out into the city, and explore.